Searching for Intimacy with God

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
October 16, 2016
The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 24C

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 121
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

My Friends:

8111420340_3eedc8bd24_bIt will come as no surprise to any who know me well that I am neither an athlete nor an ardent sports fan.  However, when I began my tenure as a teacher and chaplain at Saint Mark’s School twenty years ago, I felt obligated to attend all manner of athletic competitions, especially those involving any of my handful of student advisees.  And so, at the tender age of forty-five, I saw—believe it or not—my very first soccer, hockey, lacrosse, tennis, and wrestling matches.  This “brave new world” of athletic competition came to me as quite a revelation.  I can vividly recall my horror and alarm as I watched my first hockey and lacrosse games:  young men with sticks engaged in what appeared to be savage battle with one another.  The real eye-opener, however, came at my first wrestling match.  At first, I completely recoiled at the sight of wave after wave of grimacing young men apparently mauling and choking one another.  Yet, after that first shock of horror, I suddenly realized that in slow-motion, this fight might easily be misconstrued as a loving embrace.  In fact, all of these sports—but most especially wrestling—involved both struggle and intimacy:  the cornerstones of any significant and meaningful relationship. Continue reading

When the Will is Unwilling

maria20bouldingfinalportraitmichaelwoodward2009For many of us it is difficult to live honestly from this place of failure and weakness. Even if we know with our heads we should, we may still slip back into the old attitudes and behave as though God were expecting us to succeed and making his love conditional upon our achievements. If we have become hardened in such an attitude it may take some deep experience of failure to disabuse us. When a crisis occurs I may find in myself the sheer moral impossibility of obeying God. It is not simply a matter of emotional rebellion, or of knowing that ‘the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’; the will itself is unwilling. I am rebellious to the core and do not even want to want God’s will. Perhaps I can push it one stage further from me, and say with a kind of tortured effort, ‘I want to want to want your will,’ and then ask myself if there is even a grain of honesty or good will in that. I am helpless; and as the father of the epileptic boy cried to Jesus, ‘I do believe, help my unbelief,’ so I can only say to God, ‘I am rebellious down to my roots, help me.’

— From Gateway to Hope by Maria Boulding (1929-2009)

 

What the Heart Wants

Sermon for Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Ash Wednesday

ashesSelena Gomez’ song, “The Heart Wants What it Wants” looks like a song about love and betrayal and how “There’s a million reasons why I should give you up,” except that – and this is the refrain – “the heart wants what it wants.”   “The Heart Wants What it Wants” looks like a song about love and betrayal and not giving up and “the heart [wanting] what it wants,” but Gomez’ song is really a song about Lent.

Gomez’ song is about Lent because, like the song, Lent is about love – Lent is about opening ourselves to how much God loves us:  which is absolutely, infinitely and without conditions.  Like Gomez’ song Lent is about betrayal – daily we betray that love (or, at least I do).  Like the song Lent is about not giving up – even though we may have messed up, we are not to give up.  And Lent is about letting the heart want what it wants; letting the heart want what it really wants, deep-down. Continue reading

Revealing His Glory

Sermon for Sunday, February 7, 2016
Last Sunday After the Epiphany
Luke 9:28-36

transfiguration-raphaelOrigen of Alexandria, writing in the early 3rd century about today’s gospel lesson, says the reason Jesus was transfigured only before Peter, James and John – and not before the other disciples – was that only Peter, James and John had the capacity to behold Jesus transfigured.  According to Origen, Jesus shows himself to different people differently, depending on their capacity to see him.  Origen writes:

The Word has different forms as he appears to each, as is expedient for the beholder.  [The Word] is manifested to no one beyond the capacity of the beholder…  It is possible for Jesus to be transfigured before some… but before others not to be transfigured.

I imagine your initial response to Origen’s words is not dissimilar to mine: “Great.  Where does that leave me?  Am I one of those who gets to go up the mountain, or am I one of those who has to stay down below?” Continue reading

Waiting for God

giovanni_battista_tiepolo_096If you want God, and long for union with him, yet sometimes wonder what that means or whether it can mean anything at all, you are already walking with the God who comes.  If you are at times so weary and involved with the struggle of living that you have no strength even to want him, yet are still dissatisfied that you don’t, you are already keeping Advent in your life.  If you have ever had an obscure intuition that the truth of things is somehow better, greater, more wonderful than you deserve or desire, that the touch of God in your life stills you by its gentleness, that there is a mercy beyond anything you could ever suspect, you are already drawn into the central mystery of salvation.

Your hope is not a mocking dream; God creates in human hearts a huge desire and a sense of need, because he wants to fill them with the gift of himself.  It is because his self-sharing love is there first, forestalling any response or prayer from our side, that such hope can be in us.  We cannot hope until we know, however obscurely, that there is something to hope for; if we have had no glimpse of a vision, we cannot conduct our lives with vision.  And yet we do:  there is hope in us, and longing, because grace was there first.  God’s longing for us is the spring of ours for him.

The opening paragraphs from “The Coming of God,” by Maria Boulding, OSB

 

The Unappeasable Desire

There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else … It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work.

All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever.

— From The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

 

Risk Following Jesus

Sermon for Sunday, October 25, 2015
Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 10:46-52

Last February the New York Times Op/Ed page ran a column by Arthur C. Brooks, the President of the American Enterprise Institute.  The column was remarkable not merely because the President of a decidedly right-leaning was writing for a decidedly left-leaning publication, but also because of the column’s subject matter.  The column not about government or politics or economics – things for which the American Enterprise Institute is known – but about love and how Mr. Brooks met his wife.  (It was Valentine’s Day.)

In just a moment, we’ll get to Bartimaeus and the Gospel text we just heard, but so as not to keep us in suspense, let me tell how Mr. Brooks met his wife.  Brooks writes: Continue reading

Drink From the Fountain of Life

Listen to my words. You are going to hear something that must be said. You slake your soul’s thirst with drafts of the divine fountain. I now wish to speak of this. Revive yourself, but do not quench your thirst. Drink, I say, but do not entirely quench your thirst, for the fountain of life, the fountain of love calls us to him and says: ‘Whoever thirsts, let them come to me and drink.’

Understand well what you drink. Jeremiah the prophet would tell us; the fountain of life would himself tell us: ‘For they have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, says the Lord.’ The Lord himself, our God Jesus Christ, is the fountain of life, and accordingly he invites us to himself as to a fountain, that we may drink. Whoever loves him, drinks him. You drink who are filled with the Word of God. You drink who love him fully and really desire him. You drink who are on fire with the love of wisdom. Continue reading

A Sacrifice for God in Syria

My prayer that I might live to see you all face to face has been granted. In fact, I have been given more than I asked for, since I now hope to greet you in the chains of a prisoner of Christ Jesus, if his will finds me worthy to reach my journey’s end. One thing only I beg of you: allow me to be a libation poured out to God, while there is still an altar ready for me. Then you can form a choir of love around it and sing hymns of praise to the Father in Christ Jesus for allowing Syria’s bishop, summoned from the realms of the rising sun, to have reached the land of its setting. How good it is to be sinking down below the world’s horizon toward God that I may rise again into the dawn of his presence!

I am writing to all the churches and assuring them that I am truly in earnest about dying for God, provided you put no obstacles in the way. I beg you to do me no such untimely kindness. Let me be a meal for the beasts, for it is they who can provide my way to God. I am God’s wheat, to be ground fine by the teeth of lions so that I become the purest bread for Christ. Intercede with him on my behalf, that by their instrumentality I may be made a sacrifice to God. Continue reading

Longing for God

O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me”. Continue reading